Tuesday, May 18, 2010

What is the real impact of the Gulf oil spill?

Some sobering facts to ease fears of the Gulf oil spill.

First of all, yes the Gulf oil spill is a terrible natural disaster and will divert resources inefficiently as a result of having to clean up the mess. With that said, anyone who believes any behaviors of man come without risk is blind to human nature and man's fallibility.

When Pete DuPont in the Wall Street Journal said:
"[On] April 20 an oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico caused a leak of about 210,000 gallons a day--nearly five million gallons by now--into the ocean, and it may be several weeks or longer before it is capped and the leakage controlled. The current Gulf spillage is already almost half of the spillage from the 1989 Exxon-Valdez oil spill off the coast of Alaska which amounted to about 11 million gallons, so it is a serious pollution problem."
I wondered what the ratio of oil to water was in the Gulf of Mexico. In order to get a more rational understanding of the impact of the oil spill I did some math (with the help of my most nerdy students). The numbers might put some perspective on the situation.

The general consensus is that 5 million total gallons of oil have spilled so far.

The concise Brittanica Encyclopedia estimates the Gulf of Mexico to be 5.3 X 10 E 17 US Gallons or

530,000,000,000,000,000 gallons of water

This equals 106,000,000,000 or 106 billion gallons of water in the Gulf for every gallon of oil spilled.

or to think in opposite terms:

.000,000,000,009 % or 943 trillionths of a gallon of oil for every gallon of water in the Gulf of Mexico

Even if we take the very expansive U.C. Berkley/Columbia University estimates of the amount of oil being spilled, the numbers are: 1.89 billionths of a gallon of oil for every gallon of water in the Gulf.

I wonder what would happen to my soup on the stove if I added 943 trillionths of any substance to my gallon of water?

Would the "soup/environment" be destroyed?

Maybe it is time to take a deep breath, and move forward with some common sense rationality in dealing and reporting about the oil spill in the Gulf.

1 comment:

  1. ok, then you go ahead and put 943 trillionths of cyanide in a glass and drink it statistics man...let us know how it tastes.